Washington State Magazine

Summer 2008

Summer 2008


In This Issue...


Dialogue with the Past :: Coastal exploration has discovered traditional native technology for leaching tannins from acorns—identical to techniques discovered in northern Japan. Huge villages once lay near where the Deschutes and the John Day rivers enter the Columbia. And then they disappeared. A new era of Northwest archaeology is revealing that we have only started understanding the mysteries of our Pacific Northwest past. by Tim Steury { WEB EXCLUSIVE–Story: Ozette Art and the Makah Canoe }

Masters of Disguise :: When a family depends on a few head of cattle for food, for cash income, and for status, the loss of a single animal can be devastating. Researchers at WSU are on the hunt for vaccines against two of the most damaging—and elusive—pathogens that afflict livestock around the world. by Cherie Winner

The Age of Identity :: Little did literary sleuth Debbie Lee realize that by following in the footsteps of her subjects—a Javanese princess, a sailor, and a witch—she would slip out of her own identity and into theirs. by Hannelore Sudermann { WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Life and adventures of Princess Caraboo }


How to Survive the Coming Depression :: by Bill Morelock




:: SPORTS: Signing Day Central

:: IN SEASON: Dahlias

{ WEB EXCLUSIVE–Gallery: Doggie donors }


Cover photo: Fritz Meisel, age 3½, tries on a superhero identity. He is a fifth-generation resident of the Palouse and has many ties to Washington State University through his parents Jeanne Fulfs '94, MFA '03, and Nickolus Meisel, MFA '02, an assistant sculpture professor in the fine arts department.

The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens today.


The Carl S. English Jr. Botanical Gardens today. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

Scarlet horse-chestnut tree, a plant Carl English developed.


Scarlet horse-chestnut tree, a plant Carl English developed. Photo by Terry Donnelly.

Carl English amid thriving plants in one of his test gardens.


Carl English amid thriving plants in one of his test gardens. Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

The grounds of the Chittenden Locks facility in 1916, 25 years before English became head gardener there.


The grounds of the Chittenden Locks facility in 1916, 25 years before English became head gardener there.Photo courtesy U.S. Army Corps of Engineers.

"A joyous sight to see"

by | © Washington State University

The next time you visit the Hiram M. Chittenden Locks in Seattle's Ballard neighborhood, take a good look around. This is the only Army Corps of Engineers (ACE) facility in the nation that is home to a botanical garden, and the garden is due primarily to the efforts of one man.

The basic facts are easy to find. Carl English ('29 Botany) came to the site in 1931. In 1967 the Corps gave him its highest award for a civilian employee. Carl retired in 1974 and died two years later. In 1978 the site was designated a national historic district, due in no small part to Carl's garden.

But who was Carl?

Michael Fleming, who served as horticulturist at the Chittenden locks from 1978 to 1989, met English a few times but got to know him mainly through the garden he had created and through stories told by people who had known him well. There wasn't much else to go on, because English rarely wrote anything down. Whatever plans he made, whatever test plantings and seed exchanges he did, the details were all in his head.

"He never kept a record," says Fleming. "I can't figure out how he did what he did without records."

During his years at the site, Fleming would occasionally find unusual plants that English had tucked into some odd corner and, perhaps, forgot.

"There were things like that all over the garden," he says. "It was like a treasure hunt."

An ACE report on the history of the locks says that when English started working as assistant gardener there, the site had a military feel, with neatly trimmed conifer trees standing guard at sidewalk intersections. When he became the head gardener 10 years later, English began using the seven-acre site as a botanical canvas. He experimented with color, line, shape, and texture. He created a layered effect with naturalistic groupings of shrubs and trees, and his minimal pruning allowed the trees to achieve their natural form. He developed several new cultivars, including the scarlet horse chestnuts that now line the main walk. He planted little-known natives of the Cascades that he and his wife, Edith Hardin English ('24 Education, '29 M.S. Zoology), collected during back-country expeditions. He also planted species from other continents, especially Asia, which he grew from seeds sent to him by colleagues overseas or brought to him by sailors he befriended as their ships passed through the locks.

English guarded his domain with parental ferocity. Fleming heard tales of English turning the sprinklers on would-be picnickers and brandishing a pitchfork at visitors who wandered onto the lawns. According to the ACE report, "English saw the primary (only) role of the garden as a botanical display, not as a park and least of all as a playground."

An article English wrote in 1972 for American Horticulturist is one of the few records we have of his thoughts about the garden in his own words.

"An effort is made to have something of interest at all times of the year," he wrote, adding that he did all his work in "hopes of developing a garden that not only would be a joyous sight to see but [would also be] worthy of serious study."

Categories: Botany | Tags: Gardens, Seattle

Comments are temporarily unavailable while we perform some maintenance to reduce spam messages. If you have comments about this article, please send them to us by email: wsm@wsu.edu